By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
Round 10 of the 2016 Formula 1 season resumes at legendary Silverstone in England, where all eyes remain on the Mercedes driver pairing who are actively battling for supremacy in this years championship. As we have seen in the past, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton can clash mightily on track whiles Rosberg chases his first Formula 1 World Title as Hamilton chases his place in F1 history.
The latest rift between the Mercedes titans occurred at the Red Bull Ring during the final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg lost victory on the second corner of the final lap to Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg was given the blame for causing a collision that damaged his Mercedes and dropped him to 4th position in the final race order. He was skewered in the press, given a 10 second time penalty (which did not impact his race result), and had two points deducted from his superlicense for continuing on with a damaged car.
In truth, the matter is not as clear cut as it may have looked and Rosberg seems to be carrying an unfair share of the blame.
Lets look at the facts and see if the knock on Nico is warranted.
The final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix was exactly what Formula 1 needed to grab the fans and shake them. Rosberg, the championship points leader had a shrinking race lead with 3 time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton in dogged pursuit. Rosberg had degrading brakes and tires while Hamilton had better tires and was obviously faster…much faster. As the final lap began, Hamilton quickly evaporated a 7 car lead that Rosberg was struggling mightily to maintain. By the end of the first corner, Hamilton was on Rosberg’s rear wing waiting to make the pass as he entered the DRS zone.
Hamilton breezed by Rosberg on the outside as the pair came up the hill into turn 2 and this is where all of the controversy occurred. At first glance, Rosberg left little or no room for Hamilton to race and caused the collision that effectively handed the race win to Hamilton. The appearance was that Rosberg ran Hamilton so deep, and so wide, that Lewis was forced to either drive off track, or attempt to the turn in and collide with Rosberg.
This analysis truly makes little or no sense from a Rosberg perspective.
It also does not support the in camera video from Rosberg’s car showing him obviously applying steering input and getting very little response from the brake stricken Mercedes. With fading brakes and Hamilton obviously faster, Rosberg had no choice but to choose a late apex at turn 2 and make Hamilton pass for the lead on the outside. Had Rosberg’s car responded to the steering input instead of pushing wide into the turn, we might have seen an epic final lap between the two Mercedes drivers. Instead, Rosberg looked as if he had made a poor decision, when in truth, it was his only option of holding off the stampeding champion.
Rosberg seems able to hold off any challenge for race victory and is strategically solid as they come…. in most cases. But when it is Lewis Hamilton in pursuit, Rosberg seems to deviate from what has made him so successful and alters his strategy. Most of the time, this strategy has not worked.
In Belgium in 2014, with Rosberg on pole and Lewis starting next to him on the front row, Rosberg aggressively attacked Hamilton causing a puncture that put Lewis out of the race and damaged Rosberg’s front wing. Afterwards, Hamilton claimed that Rosberg did it on purpose and Rosberg stated that he “did it to prove a point.”
This attitude did not reflect the usual cerebral approach taken by Rosberg.
Move forward to 2015 at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Rosberg experienced wheel spin exiting turn 15 and lost the race to Hamilton after he wobbled off track. This was an odd place at the track for this to happen and Rosberg later attributed the mistake to a strange gust of wind.
Another dogged pursuit by Hamilton leading to an error by Rosberg.
Couple these battles with the qualifying event in Monaco in 2014 where Rosberg went off at Mirabeau preventing Hamilton from finishing a qualifying lap and one can start to piece together a pattern.
When Hamilton is chasing Rosberg, Rosberg seems to give him more attention that any other driver. Rosberg appears to drive more looking behind, than looking forward when it is Hamilton doing the chasing.
For a champion like Hamilton, this might be all he needs to maintain a strategic advantage and it may be the only hurdle that stands before Rosberg’s championship hopes.
But all is not lost for Nico Rosberg. Not by a long shot.
Careers are never defined by the highs and lows of a race weekend, but rather how you mediate the highs and how quickly one can rebound from the lows. All great careers have ebbs and flows and Rosberg’s is no different.
What is amazing and a true credit to Rosberg’s resolve is how quickly and consistently he is able to rebound from a rough outing. Rosberg seems able to block out any sort of previous negativity and present a hugely positive perspective. He does not seem to outwardly show frustration for long and goes out of his way to use social media to fuel his positive self image.
The great ones are like that. When things get tough, they are able to reboot quickly and focus on what is in front of them and this appears to be a great strength of Nico Rosberg and why it should surprise no one if Rosberg were to master the challenge that presents itself weekly in Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg has tried various strategies and approaches in dealing with his championship teammate. If he figures out one that works, he will grab championship glory.
The next round of this story plays out in mere hours where Rosberg still enjoys the points lead but will start the race in P2 alongside pole sitter…Lewis Hamilton.